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A Home for Homeless Cats

Marleen Drijgers has come up with a practical solution to ensure that homeless cats in her city can have decent shelter and food in an organised and socially acceptable way. She sets an outstanding example, which can be followed by others wishing to help solve similar problems in their own towns and cities.

Here's her story ...

Outside the cathouseShe was sitting in front of my shed, heavily pregnant and softly said “miao”. Naturally, from then on I called her Miao. She would not let me touch her and I could only get within a few meters of her. My shed is adjacent to a large parking lot in the centre of town. Not exactly a suitable place for her to go into labour and have her kittens. I lured her into the shed with some food and then set about finding a good home for her.
The cat shelter was willing to give her temporary asylum. Wild and semi-wild cats can’t be re-domesticated and housed with people, so for Miao and her kittens, the solution would be to put them to sleep permanently. “They would not feel a thing......” The 60 tame cats and 70 kittens that had been brought in over the Summer period, for whom a home could not be found either, was the explanation given for this strict policy.
Obviously, I did not take Miao to the shelter and the very next day she gave birth to three beautiful kittens. Fortunately, some very good homes were offered by friends of mine for these beautiful kittens, especially for the completely mousy grey tomcat en his two calico cat sisters. Miao was to be neutered after 2 ½ months and then to be released again in the neighbourhood in which she was found. Anyway, that was the plan.

I knew that there was a group of stray cats living in the centre of town already. These neglected stray cats and their offspring found shelter on the industrial estate in the large cargo holds and in the bushes and long grass patches in the middle of town. Every couple of years, these cats would be caught and taken to the cat shelter and I now knew what was in store for them. This was something that I felt needed to be changed, starting as from now.
That very same night, I saw a small black mother cat with 4 kittens of around 7 weeks old sneaking into the shopping area. She took agile leaps into the trashcans and every now and then came out with something eatable. These kittens were just as skinny as their mother. The owner of the perfume store on the corner told me that she really loved animals and that she hated seeing all these poor little kittens being born every spring and autumn. But what could she do about it? She had no idea.
I had not been living in this city for long at that time, but thought that there had to be something I could do about this situation. Not just talking about it but actually doing something constructive, no words but deeds, became my motto. Every day, I brought these starving cats food at the same spot just on the edge of the industrial estate. After a couple of weeks, they were already waiting for me to come and feed them. Step by step, I gained their trust and the distance between the cats and me became smaller, literally and figuratively speaking. With the aid of a dog bench I succeeded in catching them one by one. Their greed for smoked mackerel was greater than their fear of the large cage with the long thin nylon cord tied to the door.
After a few weeks, all 15 stray cats had been neutered and 7 kittens had been domesticated and adopted by cat loving people. The strays were now being fed every day but still I was not happy. When it was pouring down with rain, I found the cats completely drenched when I came to feed them at night. So as not to miss their dinner, they would wait for me come rain or shine. They even came when it was snowing, storming or hailstones were beating down from the sky. They really needed some sort of a roof over their heads under which they could take cover and eat. Or, even better, they could really do with a house in which they could also sleep.

Inside the cathouseA convincing conversation with the manager of this particular company solved the problem. He agreed that it would be best for all concerned if the cats were to be given their own space on the grounds. Then they would not get in anyone’s way and their population could be kept under control. Apart from that, these cats had a function to fulfil, namely keeping the grounds free of mice and rats. The stray cats were appointed company cats!
A written-off builders shack on wheels was transformed into a shelter with 2 rooms and 2 entrances. Carton boxes with blankets in them supplied soft and warm comfort. The first catshelter was a fact. After a week, all the cats had conquered their corner in their new cathouse. Some good buddies even slept together in the same box. I was happy and so were the cats.
The company management was very satisfied with the functioning of the cat shelter. No more kittens were being born, the cats were looking healthy and there was no mouse or rat to be seen anywhere.

This company also had another holding located at another larger industrial estate further away, where there was also a large population of stray cats. I was asked if I would be prepared to start up the same project there? Well, of course, only I could not do it alone.
The local department of the Animal Protection Organisation was not inclined to help me. So I organised a large scale castration action, together with some of my friends. Kittens that were caught were domesticated and adopted by families.
To our great surprise, we also found several domesticated cats. They would have to have been dumped there, because there was not a house or farm to be seen anywhere for miles around. One cat even had a microchip and after reading this, was traced back to his owners who lived in another province. It would appear that there are people who take a cat from its’ neighbourhood and then release it a couple hundred miles from home. Cat haters and pigeon fanciers are capable of doing such a thing. It would be best if everyone had their cat micro chipped of course. All the neutered cats had their ear clipped. This means that a little piece of the right ear tip was cut off. This was done under sedation during the neutralisation operation. This way it is very easy to see from a distance which cat has and which cat has not yet been neutered.

entrance into a cathouseBesides, the dog bench did not suffice anymore as a trapping device. Most of these cats were born in the wild and were very cagy. A bench with a door being pulled closed with a piece of string was no option in these cases. A professional trapping device was bought through the veterinary surgeon’s practice.
At the end of winter, we had caught some 20 cats, neutered them and housed them in a lovely cat shelter. Two of the company employees made sure that the cats were fed on a daily basis with the cat food we brought to them every month. The garbage cans near the canteen were no longer being raided by hungry cats.
A neighbouring company on this same industrial estate also wanted something done about the “cat problem” on their grounds. This is how the third cat shelter became a fact. This cat shelter was built by the technical support people of this company. A window and two real cat flaps made it an ideal cat shelter. Two of the employees were made responsible for the welfare of the cats. Luckily they were both real cat lovers and they take great care of the cats every day. We deliver the cat food to them on a monthly basis.

old kennels for the catsOne thing lead to another, and there are now 7 cathouses and an 8th one in the making. A caravan, a gipsy wagon, a blockhouse and also dog kennels and large plastic storage boxes have been made suitable as shelters. On the industrial estate alone, we have already caught 150 stray cats and we only use the winter months from the end of October until March, in order to avoid catching lactating mother cats.
We have set up a working party with a few very motivated volunteers. We now own 5 decent trapping devices. We beg for money everywhere and from everyone in order to pay for both the cat food and the castration operations. Fortunately, some of the companies are prepared to pay for these costs themselves.
Our goal is to give shelter to as many of the cats living in this huge industrial estate as we possibly can. A few years ago, these stray cats were being hunted down. But because they have now become company cats, they are no longer, by law, allowed to be shot. The hunters who have their hunting grounds on the industrial estate have been told by the council that they are no longer allowed to hunt down cats.

Mieuwtje and her son MikkeAll is well that ends well. And how is Miao doing? After her two calico kittens were adopted by dear friends, Miao stopped eating and drinking and became ill. She was searching for her two kittens everywhere, even though they were only adopted after 11 weeks. I could not bring myself to also take her third and last baby away from her.
By tempting her with pieces of meat and boiled fish, she slowly started to eat again and eventually she made a full recovery. Miao and her son are still living with me now. Miao will, even after all this time, still not let me stroke her but she does wink at me and that makes both me and Miao feel very content indeed.


Marleen Drijgers

Contact: marleen"at"
(Spam protection, replace "at" with @)

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